The new year is here and many people have set their resolution to be healthier or physically fit. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2014), regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health and it has several benefits including: lower risk of heart disease, lower risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, and improved mental health and mood.
Here are five tips from the American Psychological Association (APA) to help you make lasting, positive lifestyle and behavior changes:
Make a plan that will stick. Your plan is a map that will guide you on this journey of change. You can even think of it as an adventure. When making your plan, be specific. Want to exercise more? Detail the time of day when you can take walks and how long you’ll walk. Write everything down, and ask yourself if you’re confident that these activities and goals are realistic for you. If not, start with smaller steps. Post your plan where you’ll most often see it as a reminder.
Start small. After you’ve identified realistic short-term and long-term goals, break down your goals into small, manageable steps that are specifically defined and can be measured. Is your long-term goal to lose 20 pounds within the next five months? A good weekly goal would be to lose one pound a week. If you would like to eat healthier, consider as a goal for the week replacing dessert with a healthier option, like fruit or yogurt. At the end of the week, you’ll feel successful knowing you met your goal.
Change one behavior at a time. Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time, so replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time. Many people run into problems when they try to change too much too fast. To improve your success, focus on one goal or change at a time. As new healthy behaviors become a habit, try to add another goal that works toward the overall change you’re striving for.
Involve a buddy. Whether it be a friend, co-worker or family member, someone else on your journey will keep you motivated and accountable. Perhaps it can be someone who will go to the gym with you or someone who is also trying to stop smoking. Talk about what you are doing. Consider joining a support group. Having someone who you can share your struggles and successes makes the work easier and the mission less intimidating.
Ask for support. Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen strengthens your resilience and commitment. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking help from a psychologist. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body, as well as the factors that promote behavior change. Asking for help doesn’t mean a lifetime of therapy; even just a few sessions can help you examine and set attainable goals or address the emotional issues that may be getting in your way.
Copyright 2014 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D
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American Psychological Assocation (APA). Making lifestyle changes that last. Obtained January 2014 from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/lifestyle-changes.aspx
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) Obtained January 2014 from http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/health/index.html